The Angel Levine (1970)

Article 1971 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2006
Posting Date: 1-4-2007
Directed by Jan Kadar
Featuring Zero Mostel, Harry Belafonte, Ida Kaminska

A Jew on the verge of losing his faith after suffering several setbacks is visited by a black man who claims to be his guardian angel. Unfortunately, the angel can’t do anything to help him unless the Jew believes in him, and this won’t come easy…

I enjoy looking at the distribution of user ratings on IMDB because they can actually tell you a lot about the movie. Of those that have rated this movie, roughly half give it the very top rating. The rest of the voters follow the classic bell curve, one which peaks at the five-out-of-ten level. This seems to indicate that you’ll either love the movie, or have very little use for it.

I can certainly understand the different reactions. The movie is unique and powerful, but it’s also somewhat muddled, and it has a way of confounding a viewer’s preconceptions (about angels and how movies like this should end in particular) in ways that aren’t much fun. It is an interesting meditation on the nature of faith, and the way that one person’s state of mind can change the fates of those around him. Great performances abound, particularly from Mostel and Kaminski, and it’s always interesting to watch a movie where you really don’t know just how things will pan out. But it’s definitely capable of alienating the viewer, especially the ending.


The Mask (1961)

THE MASK (1961)
Article 1970 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-6-2006
Posting Date: 1-3-2007
Directed by Julian Roffman
Featuring Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker

A psychiatrist has a patient who believes he has been lured into committing murder by an evil mask. When the patient commits suicide, the psychiatrist receives the mask in the mail. He decides to try it on for himself…

Let’s get right down to the main attraction of this movie; when it was shown in theaters, the audience were supposed to put on their 3D glasses whenever they heard the phrase “Put the mask on NOW!”, and they would be treated to some of the trippiest 3-D horror sequences they’ve ever seen. I have to give the movie credit; these sequences are truly bizarre, full of unsettling and grotesque images, and with a nightmarish stream-of-consciousness technique. If the movie was to be judged on these sequences alone, it would have been great.

Unfortunately, there’s not only the rest of the movie to contend with, there’s also the problem with how these scenes fit into the context of the movie. The movie would like to see itself as a psychological thriller, but there really isn’t much in the way of psychology on display here. The script is fairly weak and obvious, and the nightmare sequences never really effectively hook up with the rest of the story, which is to say that all those nightmarish images never really gain a relevance; they remain little more than scary images.

Probably the worst problem with the movie is the middle section. Once the psychiatrist tries on the mask for the first time, he is so totally changed by the mask that we know he’s going to start killing people once he opens his mouth. The trouble is, it takes him the rest of the movie to get around to it. It would have worked a lot better had the changes to the psychiatrist’s personality been more gradual, with each donning of the mask bringing him closer to madness. This would have required either a more subtle script and more nuanced acting from the actor playing the psychiatrist, but such is not the case. As a result, the movie as a whole falls flat. Still, everyone should have a look at those trippy nightmare sequences at least once.


Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Article 1969 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-5-2006
Posting Date: 1-2-2007
Directed by Mel Welles and Aureeliano Luppi
Featuring Joseph Cotten, Rosalba Neri, Paul Muller

Frankenstein’s daughter gets a medical degree so she can help her father with his transplant experiments. When her father is killed by his own creation, she undertakes to continue his experiments on her own.

You know, for a sleazy low-budget stab at the Frankenstein story, this isn’t half bad; I find it a lot more palatable than FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS, for example. It has its problems, of course. The character of the monster isn’t particularly well handled; though the dialogue talks about him consciously doing away with everyone responsible for him being a monster, he never acts in any way other than a mindless killing machine, and that is a disappointing choice. The movie ups the exploitation elements; there is quite a bit of gratuitous nudity here. The odd thing I find about his nudity is that it doesn’t start cropping up until Joseph Cotten’s character is dead; now I know that movies aren’t necessarily shot in order, but it made me feel as if maybe they didn’t want their name star to know just how sleazy the movie was going to be; this is probably just imagination on my part. Still, one of the most memorable scenes in the movie is sleazy and downright perverse, and that is when they decide to kill a handyman for the use of his body, and they do so at a very specific moment. The movie also features Mickey Hargitay, and was co-directed by Gravis Mushnik from THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.


Jungle Jim (1948)

Article 1968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2006
Posting Date: 1-1-2007
Directed by William A. Berke
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Virginia Grey, George Reeves

Jungle Jim is hired to lead an expedition into the jungle to find a lost temple. It is believed that a poison can be found at this temple that can lead to a cure for polio.

Okay, you’ve got Johnny Weissmuller, newly retired from the Tarzan series, and you want to star him in a fresh new series of jungle movies. Naturally, you want to start off the series putting your best foot forward to ensure success, so you decide you’ll have to come up with something extra-special for the plot. So, naturally, you decide upon…a Double-Stuffed Safari-O? For those unfamiliar with the term, I define a Double-Stuffed Safari-O thusly; it is any jungle movie which features exposition on one end, denoument on the other, and is filled in-between with an overly-generous portion of safari. I always take this plot as being the writer’s way of saying that they had no idea in how to fill in the middle of the story.

The safari section does serve some functions, though; it leaves plenty of time for animal antics and establishing that the woman (who is obviously intruding on a man’s world) can’t really hack it in this environment and needs a man to help her out (aka Jungle Jim). Probably the most novel thing the movie does is that it gives Jungle Jim two animal friends, and neither one is a chimp. One is a dog (which, as a pet in a jungle movie, is singularly lame), but the other is a raven (or a crow; I could never tell them apart). Though these pets wouldn’t persist throughout the entire series, I’ve run into them before, and once again, the dog proves near useless (man’s best friend indeed!), while the raven is the one who proves most useful in saving lives. Still, those willing to endure the safari section of the movie will find that the ending is pretty good, and fans of the “The Adventures of Superman” will get a chance to see George Reeves as the villain of the piece. Other than that, it’s pretty routine; elephant stampedes, animal antics, lion wrestling, same ol’, same ol’.


Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)

Article 1967 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2006
Posting Date: 12-31-2006
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
Featuring Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks

A doctor, his granddaughter, and two fellow travelers end up in Earth’s future, where the world has been taken over by deadly robot-like creatures known as Daleks.

Much as I admire Cushing’s work, there are a small handful of his performances that don’t really work for me, and, coincidentally or not, they occur usually when he’s playing charming elderly eccentrics; this movie is one of them. Oddly enough, I think he would have made an excellent Doctor, had he been allowed to develop a character that could have been modified to play to his strengths, as is usually done for the actors who’ve portrayed him in the TV series (for those who don’t know what I”m talking about, this movie is an adaptation of a series of episodes from the British TV series “Doctor Who”), but with his performance here, I never really get the sense that Cushing “becomes” the character, but rather that he’s just “playing” the character.

Actually, this probably doesn’t matter much; I’ve heard that the movie adaptations of the series made during the sixties were not really designed for “Doctor Who” fans per se, but rather to fans of his arch nemeses, the Daleks. The fact that the movies are not really part of the canon (the character was never called “Dr. Who” in the TV series, though he is here, and the first movie establishes him as a resident of the earth, whereas he would turn out to be an alien in the series) probably didn’t make much of a difference to them. In fact, I would imagine that the movies were great fun for fans of the series; it must have been wonderful to see some of these early stories in full color (and the use of color here is excellent) and with a relatively high budget. Still, it does suffer somewhat from the fact that the story was written as a serial, and in the attempt to keep everything in the serial, it ends up rendering the story rushed and confusing at times. Still, the Daleks are always a lot of fun, and they’re portrayed just as they were in the TV series. All in all, it’s a mixed bag, but it could have been a lot worse.


In Like Flint (1967)

Article 1966 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2006
Posting Date: 12-30-2006
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Featuring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Hale

Superspy Derek Flint is called in to investigate why three minutes were lost during the president’s golf game. The investigation leads to a cabal of women, and an attempt to turn a space platform into a weapon of destruction.

I was all ready to dismiss this movie as just another James Bond clone, but it really deserves a little more attention than that. Despite its obvious Bond influences, it does strive to be something different; the music and style make the feel of the movie a little less derivative, it has a much lighter touch (but avoids the smirking excesses of the Matt Helm series), and Flint himself is an interesting character, as he’s a renaissance man of sorts with a wide and eccentric intellect and the ability to talk to dolphins. These go a long ways towards alleviating the movie’s turgid pace, but in the end it doesn’t quite succeed; the movie gets quite dull on occasion. James Coburn does a fine job, but he doesn’t quite manage to make his character’s sexism endearing in the way that, say, Sean Connery could do with aplomb; when he sneeringly dismisses the concept that women could run the world, he does so with an edge of meanness that is rather unpleasant. Still, if you ever wanted to see Lee J. Cobb in drag, this is the movie for you. I haven’t seen the first movie in this series, which is reputed to be somewhat better. This one pretty much ended the series, though the character would be revived in a TV movie in the mid seventies.


Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964)

Article 1965 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date:8-1-2006
Posting Date: 12-29-2006
Directed by Giacomo Gentilomo
Featuring Sergio Ciani, Jany Clair, Anna Maria Polani

Hercules (aka Maciste) decides to help the oppressed populace of Samar do battle with an evil queen, who is sacrificing her subjects to some evil visitors from outer space.

Given Maciste’s well-established penchant for time travel, it should be no surprise to find out that he does battle with moon men at least once in his long career. However, despite the premise, this one has a surprise in store; it actually does take place in ancient times, where a man running around in a loincloth didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Of course, that means the story relies pretty heavily on the tried-and-tested sword-and-sandal cliches, and there’s few surprises in the way the story unfolds. Still, this one is really heavy on the fantastic content, what with moon men, rock monsters, sacrifices and a long-toothed gorilla creature to round out the proceedings. This one moves at a pretty good pace; it jumps from one crisis to another with amazing speed, but it grinds to a halt at the oddest of times; about ten minutes before the movie ends, the movie gets mired in a sandstorm sequence that practically brings the story to a standstill. I think they were trying to build up suspense, but it just makes the action nearly indecipherable, and it doesn’t get back on track until the last three minutes of the movie. All in all, this is a fairly standard sword-and-sandal outing.


Agency (1980)

AGENCY (1980)
Article 1964 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2006
Posting Date: 12-28-2006
Directed by George Kaczender
Featuring Robert Mitchum, Lee Majors, Valerie Perrine

An executive at an ad agency is puzzled when a bunch of people are fired and a new crew is hired. He doesn’t really become suspicious until a paranoid co-worker, convinced that a conspiracy is underfoot, turns up dead. He decides to uncover the secret.

The fantastic content of this movie involves subliminal advertising, and this may be a bit of a spoiler, but almost every other plot description I’ve seen gives it away, so I guess I can’t be held solely accountable. The movie is interesting enough; it has a slightly surreal edge to it, an unexpected sense of humor (much of which is due to Saul Rubinek, who leaves the story much too early), and it features Robert Mitchum. Now the presence of Robert Mitchum doesn’t guarantee a good movie, but it does mean that there’s at least one pro on the job who will go a long ways towards holding your attention. These pluses are a very good thing for this movie, because, despite an interesting premise, it has a predictable story and is lifelessly directed. It’s also oddly dated at times; some of the artwork and ad campaigns look as if they’re out of the late sixties rather than from the late seventies / early eighties; in particular, check out the graphics of the opening title, the manipulative political ad, and the glimpses of the commercials for “Chocolate Planet”. It’s watchable, but it could have been a lot better. For those into movie in-jokes, pay close attention to the names in the political ad, and then keep your eyes peeled during the final credits.


Gammera the Invincible (1966)

Article 1963 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2006
Posting Date: 12-27-2006
Directed by Sandy Howard and Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Diane Findlay

An atomic bomb in a Russian airplane goes off when it is downed, and the explosion releases a giant turtle (known as Gammera) from his icy tomb.

Long-time followers of this series may be asking why I’m covering this movie again; after all, my review of GAMERA was done more than four years ago. The reason is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to say how much a movie has changed before it can be called a different movie. The movie I covered several years ago, GAMERA, was the Sandy Frank dub of the original Japanese movie. When the movie first came to the states, it had lots of new American footage edited in; this is the version I am now covering. As far as the question whether it is the same movie or two different movies goes, I let IMDB make the call for me, and they do indeed list the two versions as separate entities.

So how does this version compare with the Sandy Frank version? It’s the better of the two. The dubbing is better, for one thing, though it’s still far from good. The dubbed script is also better written; it does a better job of setting up plot points. The new American footage is, however, quite bad. Some of the acting is way over the top; in particular, a scene involving two scientists on a talk show (which looks like it was shot in a broom closet) having a loud, obnoxious argument about the existence of Gammera is unbelievable. One of the other segments features an actor giving the worst oriental accent I’ve ever heard. However, the saddest sequences involve Brian Donlevy. He was a heavy drinker, and I suspect that he was far from sober when he shot his scenes for this, as he seems just barely able to deliver his lines.

Overall, though the quality is slightly better than the Sandy Frank version, I still find this to be a fairly dull kaiju. Part of the reason is that this movie tries to have it both ways; Gammera is supposed to be both terrifying and sympathetic, but the movie just comes off as muddled. He’d fare a little better in the sequels, and much better in his revival during the late nineties.


La Bruja (1954)

LA BRUJA (1954)
Article 1962 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-29-2006
Posting Date: 12-26-2006
Directed by Chano Urueta
Featuring Lilia del Valle, Ramon Gay, Julio Villarreal

The daughter of a scientist is killed when hoodlums break into his laboratory to steal a formula. The scientist then devises a formula to turn an incredibly ugly woman beautiful, and then uses the woman in a scheme to get revenge on those responsible for his daughter’s death.

My copy of this Mexican horror movie is unsubtitled and undubbed, but I was able to figure out the plot with the help of some plot descriptions elsewhere. Not that this one was particularly difficult to sort out; it’s a fairly common horror-type story, and, except for a few details, it manages to come through in the visuals. One advantage of watching a movie like this in a language you can’t understand is that it puts you in a position to concentrate on the visuals, and that plays to this movie’s strengths. It’s full of wonderfully moody horror images; for example, there are several memorable shots of the scientist as seen through or around his lab equipment that are quite fun. In fact, this whole movie feels like one of the better Mexican efforts, and it really leaves me wondering just how much damage bad dubbing has done to these movies. Had this one been poorly dubbed (as most of the Mexican horror movies were), would I have dismissed it because the dubbing would have made the movie seem cheap and stupid? I don’t really know. I am glad, however, that I’ve taken the chance on watching some of these movies even when saddled with the difficulty of not understanding the dialogue; it makes you appreciate how much can be lost in translation.